"How's Alice?"

Liz, after nearly taking Jack's head off with a Dr. Seuss book during a sleep-deprived moment of weakness, decided that she desperately needed a day out of the house. So she called up Pete, who was glad to meet up for lunch.

"Oh my god, she's perfect." Helplessly, Liz whips out her iPhone. She had promised herself she wouldn't be one of those mothers that gushed incessantly about their child, but to hell with it. "We took this one just yesterday."

Liz tilts the screen and Pete admires the pretty, blue-eyed baby. "Oh. She's so beautiful."

"I know," Liz sighs. "She's the most beautiful baby." She gives a little, self-deprecating chuckle. "All right, I know all mothers say that but in this case, it's actually true."

"I believe it. So, don't you wanna hear what's been going down at the studio?"

Liz sighs again, and this one is weighted. "Hit me with the worst of it first."

Pete gives her a melancholy smile. "Well, we're almost-most-definitely cancelled after this season."

She winces. "Ouch. Says who?"

Pete shrugs. "Everyone. It's time, Liz."

"I guess it's better to end running to the finish line instead of limping to it," Liz says wisely. She knows that Pete is right. Jack hasn't mentioned rumors of TGS ending, but she finds she is okay with it all. She has finally put herself before her career, and only hopes that her friends will eventually do the same.

He gives her a weak smile in response.

"Pete, it's gonna be okay. You'll land something amazing, afterwards, and if not, you can always find your way by serving shrimp toasts to the hungry people."

Her friend just looks at her, clearly questioning her ability to make actual sense.

"I sincerely hope you haven't forgotten how to write, because we could use you for this sprint that you speak of," he says.

"Yeah, okay. I'll be back after New Year's, and I swear I'll help you with your real Plan B this time."

"Thanks, Liz. I am probably not going to be asked back for subbing, so I appreciate it."

"Anytime. Let's order," she says, and flags down Darryl to put in a few orders of Bloomin' Onion.

The baby snuggles sleepily against her mother's chest. Jack smiles at the sight and sits on the edge of the bed, sliding one gentle fingertip against one soft baby cheek.

"Hi," Liz smiles, a little sleepy herself. "How was your meeting?"

"Longer than I envisioned." Leaning forward, he presses his mouth to Liz's, and she sweeps her tongue in, taking him by surprise. They linger together for a moment, until Liz tenses to remind him of the third party in her arms.

"How was lunch with Pete?" he asks.

She is still dressed from her day out, looking a lot more put together than she has in weeks in black pants (and a sky-blue T-shirt that does wonders in the chest department).

"I'm gonna go run myself a bath." She presses a soft kiss to Alice's head before rising from the bed, and hands her to Jack. She starts to wiggle out of her slacks, and gives him a heavy-lidded look. "Feel free to join me."

He raises his eyebrows as her slacks dropped to the floor. "Lemon?"

She smiles faintly. "Yeah?"

"Did you go to the doctor?"

"Yup. Last week," she says casually, popping the 'p'. "Didn't I mention it?"

There has been an unspoken no-sex-allowed rule between them lately. Until determined by her doctor that it would be okay, Jack hardly felt like taking any chances.

"No." Jack swallows. "No, you did not."

"Well, I did." Bra and panties are discarded next and she walks to the bathroom, a slight sway to her hips that is nearly hypnotic.

"I'll be in the tub."

To make sure he understands what she's trying to say, Liz adds, "Naked."

The door closes gently behind her and Jack moves carefully from the bed, gently cradling his sleeping daughter. Right before he lowers her into the bassinet, Alice stirs and he practically holds his breath.

"C'mon, baby," he murmurs lowly. One little hand fists and Jack begins to sway, one hand softly patting her diapered bottom in a lulling motion. "I love you, but mommy and daddy really need alone time."

The low sound of his voice has her settling again and he continues to speak softly, until Jack is sure she is fully asleep again. After setting his precious bundle in her crib, he can't help just watching her for a few seconds.

Obviously, he is biased, but they have made one perfect little girl. However, when she clenches one tiny fist in sleep and makes some type of gurgling sound, he comes out of his trance.

"I'll buy you a pony if you don't wake up," he breathes to his daughter, slowly and carefully backing away from the crib and perfectly able to take her up on the pony promise should the need arise. Quickly, he strips his clothes and goes to join his wife. He leaves the bathroom door slightly ajar in order for them to hear any noise.

Liz is already buried up to her neck in soapy water, hair piled high with a clip. She looks over his naked body and shifts forward in the tub to make room for him. That is all the invitation Jack needs. He slips behind her, cradling her warm, wet body between his arms and legs. She relaxes back against him with a soft little humming sigh. His own sigh of pleasure is uncontrollable as he presses his face to the side of her neck. It has been way too long since he has had her relaxed and naked in his arms.

"I had no idea you went to the doctor's last week," he murmured softly. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It was just a routine check-up." Her head tilts to the side in silent invitation to his lips. "She cleared me for, you know, stuff, but we've been busy and really, I didn't feel up to it."

"Besides your continuous use of the word 'stuff' in place of highly meaningful acts of love, it's alright, Lemon. I am pleased you've had a change of heart, of course, but can hardly blame you."

"Thanks. And shut up."

Jack chuckles. "I suppose I should also thank you for not teasing me unnecessarily with the news of your visit this past week." He nips her earlobe playfully.

It is her turn to laugh softly. "Stop, stop!" Turning her head, she places a wet kiss on his jaw with twinkling eyes. "I have no intention of teasing tonight, though. It's been too long."

"God, yes, it has," Jack agrees on a breathless exhale. His hands stroke along her stomach under the water while he places a deep, open-mouthed kiss in the sweet spot between her neck and shoulder.

"I will ask you to, um, go gentle though. We don't want any…leakage." She draws her hand up from the water to gesture at her chest area, and Jack scrunches his face at the thought. Her concern is legitimate, though, and he reaches for the shampoo bottle on a low shelf of the tub to pour some of the pale liquid in his hand.

"Whatever you want." He undoes the hairclip, and her thick curls spring free. Her locks are getting a little long, and Jack makes a mental note to book a relaxing spa visit when he gets the chance. "Just tell me what you want," he whispers into her ear, dipping a washcloth in the soapy water. "And it is yours."

She gasps slightly when water trickles from above. He's bunched the washcloth, squeezing the excess water over her head to wet her hair. And then his hands are threading into the wet strands, lathering up her hair in a heavenly massage. She moans softly. "I want you to do that forever."

He smiles and washes her hair thoroughly. She makes tiny little noises of pleasure that make him harder and harder but he doesn't rush. After he's rinsed her hair, Jack soaps up the washcloth and runs it gently over the front of her body. The pass over her breasts is exquisitely careful and then he is moving down her stomach. Water sloshes as her legs part and then he is running the soft material over the inner surface of each thigh before dragging it softly over her center.

By the time he pulls Liz to her feet to rinse her off under the spray of the showerhead, she is a boneless mass of relaxation. In contrast, every inch of him is stretched tight and hard as steel. The pressure between his legs is a constant ache, but worth it because she is wet, naked and making the softest little noises, pure surrender in his arms.

Her hands stop his lips from reaching her pale stomach.

Jack's gaze travels from her smooth tummy to her face, flushed from arousal. Her hair is still damp from the bath and it fans out onto the pillow. They are taking it easy, and he is alarmed at the possibility of her being hurt. "Lemon, what's wrong?"

Her reply is so mumbled that he only catches one word out of it. (Which is not unusual for her, even though Jack likes to think that she has progressed in the bedroom confidence department since they've been together.)


He draws his eyes from hers to glance at the red and silver streaks of the stretch marks marring her skin. He has seen them before, and doesn't understand Liz's sudden trepidation.

"No. Don't look."

His hands cover hers slowly and move them away, and he touches his lips to every individual pinkish streak.

"They're nothing to worry about, Lemon."

Liz shakes her head slowly, but his piercing stare brings her movements to a stop.

"These little stretch marks represent our family. What we have together. And that," he presses another kiss to her tummy, "is beautiful. As are you."

He's right. She knows that he's right, and feels foolish for getting caught up on something like this when there are much more important things in her life right now. Such as the quiet breathing of their baby, asleep in her bassinet a few feet from their bed.

She smiles. "Okay, maybe they aren't so bad after all."

"Obviously," he smirks. "I'm always right."

"Oh, you're always—" she starts to say, before his lips come crashing onto hers.

Here they are again in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve. Tree, presents, booze. Check, check, and—well, the last one is significantly depleted, but still, check. It is exactly the same and yet entirely different than their situation this time one year ago.

The difference being, of course, that baby makes three.

She is too young to understand about lights and snow; about coal and greed. The baby will sleep through it all, and yet Jack and Liz know that all too soon she will be crawling, walking, talking...but also learning, and sharing, and living.

Liz pulls the Slanket tighter around them, nestling deep into Jack's warm body. The awe has not yet worn off, and she is so beyond belief that having it all is, in fact, possible, that she can do little but sit in silence and allow herself to be mesmerized by the cozy flames in the hearth.

The snow is falling outside.

A baby is falling asleep.

And two people fall somehow deeper in love, protected by the embrace of a fleece blanket purchased from QVC and the warmth of each other.


It is a windy spring day at the Central Park Zoo.

Marlin Bradley, for the past fifty years, has been selling ice cream from his small cart just inside the gates. He has scooped chocolate for old men, strawberry for young girls, and Rocky Road for everyone in between. Bradley considers himself wiser than the most qualified anthropologist, having observed people from all walks of life. But there is one type of customer that he favors, even after all these years: the family unit.

Today, he watches the entrance with the usual sereneness. It's quiet for a Sunday, and he does not expect a line in front of his cart. Eventually, a group of three approaches his area, and they recite their choices (mint chocolate chip for the woman, peanut butter for the man; cookie dough for the child).

He hands the small girl her cone first, and she licks it eagerly, smearing the cold treat on her face from her excitement. She cannot be more than two or three, and ice cream is still such an experience for her. While he expertly scoops the other flavors, Bradley watches the father smirk at his daughter's antics, undoubtedly smug in the fact that it will be his wife, and not him, who will have to deal with the sticky mess later.

The toddler is the spitting image of the slender woman, with curly brown hair in two little pigtails; only her piercing blue eyes interrupt the resemblance. Bradley can see a mischief in them that matches her father's, and he senses that it is the woman—with a face that holds certain awareness—who keeps everyone grounded.

Bradley watches as the threesome walk away from him, further into the zoo. They are an attractive group, confident in their strides, and he smiles to himself while sliding the cooler doors shut.

Family is one of nature's masterpieces.